#WritingNotebook: Plot vs Premise – Mapping Out Your Novel

But before we dive into that novel, there is just one little thing we have to get out of the way: do you have a plot?

You might get offended. You might roll your eyes and say, Of course I do! 

But consider these examples and pick out the plot and the premise:

A) A rock star finds a mermaid washed ashore on his way to a photo shoot and helps her save her kingdom.

B) After falling in love with across a mermaid stranded on the shore, a rock star has to decide whether to help her save her kingdom or use her to regain his flagging popularity.

Congratulations if you picked A as premise and B as plot! You managed to distinguish between plot and premise. The main difference? Conflict.

No, because that’s just boring.

A premise sets up the characters and setting, and reveals the genre of the story. But plot introduces the conflict and sets up the stakes.

Premise tells you nothing about the complication, just what to expect. Are rock stars and mermaids your thing? Then pick up this book. Are manipulative mermaids and desperate rock stars enough to make you read on? Then dive in. The first is what a premise does. It whets your appetite, gives you an idea of the story. The second holds you in its thralls (hopefully), and makes you invested enough to stick around till the last page.

All set? Then let’s talk about plot. No, that tagline you had (in B) is not a plot. That’s just a pitch. You need something more concrete to last you to the end. I mean, if you’re Stephen King and write by the seat of your pants, then good for you. The rest of us mere mortals need a structure with which to approach our story.

Basically, the idea is this:

Amanda Patterson over at Writers Write suggest writing your ending first, and she put up a great argument for it. Having been stuck – and ready to throw in the towel – too many times precisely because I had no end goal in mind, no idea where and how I wanted my characters to end up, this seems like pretty sound advice.

Writing a novel isn’t always getting from Point A to Point B. There are hundreds of detours along the way, and hundreds more dead ends. If all you have is a premise, chances are you’re going to end up stranded halfway through.

Very funny, guys. Now give me back my story!

With a plot, you’re one block away from writer’s block.

With a sound plot, you’re safely tucked away in the realm of angst-free writing, where no mid-story goblins and manuscript devouring piranhas reside. There, you can get to the end without as many head-meets-desk moments.

May you plot well enough to steer clear of goblins and piranhas.


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